April 26, 2023

Deadlines and Goal Setting

Deadlines to 'achieve' a goal can be useful, but setting them is more art than science.

I enjoy reading software blogs  - I'm still a developer after all - and I read this post recently about ETAs (or Estimated Time of Arrival) for software products. In Software Development, an ETA is your guess ('estimate') of when your product/new feature will be finished. It’s a famously dark art in software, as it’s notoriously hard to estimate the exact amount of time/effort to do something, and managers can often take an 'estimate' as a hard deadline (though sometimes this is necessary too). As the post says:

“Even if you plan well. There are just too many variables...You don’t know what you forgot to take into account, or what pieces you underestimated or overestimated. You never know what weird bugs will trip you up.”

This idea could be applied generally to goal setting and trying to change something about yourself - as most of us know, it’s always hard to predict exactly when you’ll achieve a goal.

When people are setting their own goals, (either personal or otherwise), they can get dispirited when they see their deadline pass by and they haven’t acheived what they wanted to. What they don’t always realise is that both missing the deadline (or feeling dispirited about it) is totally normal!

You’re trying to do something that you have never done before, whether that’s losing weight, or learning or language - you don't know what weird 'bugs'/life events/unknown issues will trip you up on your journey.

If hitting your goal takes you 6 months instead of the 4 or 5 you thought it would at the start, that’s most definitely still a success! Professional software developers struggle with estimating how long it will take to do their job, and don’t worry too much when they get it wrong. Neither should you!

I’ll do a longer post on why setting a deadline can still be useful or why missing a deadline could be a symptom of something not working, but it’s important not to get too hung up on them in your personal life. Deadlines can be useful, but don’t think of them as the difference between success and failure.